- IRN-BRU Phenomenal First Division Manager of the Month: Jackie McNamara (Partick Thistle)
- IRN-BRU Phenomenal Second Division Manager of the Month: Jim Weir (Brechin)
- IRN-BRU Phenomenal Third Division Manager of the Month: Keith Knox (Stranraer)
- IRN-BRU Phenomenal Player of the Month: Farid El Alagui (Falkirk)
- IRN-BRU Phenomenal Young Player of the Month: Stephen Stirling (Stranraer)
- IRN-BRU Ginger Boot Winner: Stephen Stirling (Stranraer)
- Goal of the Month: Keaghan Jacobs (Livingston)
IRN-BRU Phenomenal First Division Manager of the Month – Jackie McNamara (Partick Thistle)
Partick Thistle boss Jackie McNamara picked up the first Managerial Award of his short career at Hampden last week, although he is still feeling sore over his side’s Scottish Cup exit against Queen of the South in what has been a roller-coaster campaign for the Firhill side.
The former Celtic and Scotland full back was presented with the IRN-BRU Phenomenal First Division Award after three wins in December lifted his side onto the coat-tails of promotion chasers Ross County, Falkirk and Dundee.
Despite his success following wins over Livingston, Morton and Queen of the South, with only a controversial defeat from Raith Rovers ruining the month, McNamara said, “It is always nice to win something, especially the first time, but I would rather swap this for still being in the Scottish Cup.”
McNamara is learning quickly that management can be a lonely job as he explained, “Being a football manager is certainly an up and down job and I have had a few disappointments already. The buck stops with you, if you win you are great and if you lose you are an idiot.”
“Dealing with a defeat as a player involves looking at your own game whereas when you are a manager you have to see what everyone could have done differently and asking why certain players are making mistakes.”
The 38 year old is having a mixed season as he said, “There have been a few disappointments already especially in Cup football where as well as losing to Queen’s we drew with Culter Juniors and were beaten by Berwick Rangers in the Ramsdens Cup.”
“These moments have been hard to deal with especially when you go home hurting on a Saturday night and try to be normal with your family but you also have great moments when you the young players take things they have been taught into games.”
McNamara explained the youthful nature of his squad could be leading to a season of ups and downs by saying, “We only have 2 players in their thirties and the rest are kids. Some of the players have only played 10-15 senior games and we are expecting them to play like seasoned professionals at 19.”
“I made my debut for Dunfermline at 19 after a really good grounding in reserve football and players are playing first team football now without that. It is hard to gain consistency in that environment.”
Thistle’s 1-0 Scottish Cup defeat from the Doonhamers obviously still rankles McNamara as he said, “We did not deserve to lose the game and it was a real kick to us that we did in lots of ways, especially financially. It meant that we could not offer anything to Craig Dargo to remain until the end of the season.”
IRN-BRU Phenomenal Third Division Manager of the Month – Keith Knox (Stranraer)
IRN-BRU Phenomenal Young Player of the Month – Stephen Stirling (Stranraer)
Stranraer received a double award for ending 2011 at the top of Third Division with manager Keith Knox picking up the December IRN-BRU Phenomenal Third Division Manager of the Month honour and goal-grabbing midfielder Stephen Stirling being presented with the SFL’s IRN-BRU Young Player accolade.
The Blues won 4 and drew 2 last month with two of their successes being over long term leaders Annan to see Stranraer reach the summit.
It is the first award for Knox in his 3 years in charge at Stair Park whereas for Stirling, who grabbed 6 goals in the lead up to Christmas, it is further evidence that his career is bouncing back the way after being dumped by Rangers in the summer.
Knox said, “We brought the New Year game against Annan forward to Hogmanay and it proved to be a great decision in a great month for us.”
The Award is vindication of Knox’s decision to re-shape his squad after just 2 league games into this season as he explained, “We started off against Alloa at home and did okay but lost 3-2. The following week at Queen’s Park we did not play well at all and lost 2-0. I knew then that we needed to change as some of the moves we had made in the summer were not working out as planned.”
The effects of cash cuts further up Scottish football trickled down to Wigtownshire with Knox able to bring in a new spine to his team when players who were previously out of reach became available as squads were reduced.
Knox said, “We brought in David McGregor from Morton to bolster our defence, Stephen gave us drive in the midfield and Martin Grehan came in to play up front from Partick Thistle. I had to balance the books so I had to move players on and that was not nice after just 2 games. We were in a doom and gloom situation after just 2 games.”
“If you told me we would get players of Stephen’s ability and background at the end of last season I would not have believed you. It is a sign of the times as we would not have got these guys in previous seasons.”
The players have retained their appetite for the game with Knox saying, “You have got to give them credit as they have kept their standards and appetite for the game high.”
22-year-old Stirling left Ibrox in the summer after not establishing himself in the first team squad and an unproductive loan spell at Stirling Albion and his success has come about after a period of reflection.
Stirling said, “I went to Morton for pre-season training and they decided to sign experienced players instead and that was hard to take. I was really dispirited at that point as I did not have a club.”
“I was down in the dumps and I went on holiday for a couple of weeks to clear my head. Thankfully when I came back one of the Stranraer players got me out of a training session with Beith Juniors to join in with them.”
The move worked with Stirling saying, “They have taken a chance with me as I had gone stale after 6 years at Rangers. I had played with Scotland and in Youth Cup Finals but I knew I was leaving long before the end. I went to Stirling and the manager that took me there got sacked so sometimes things come down to luck.”
“The lack of a reserve league did not help either as whenever there was a bounce game with Rangers it was the established first team squad members that got to play in it.”
Stirling signed on until the end of the season and Knox was asked how he would feel if Stirling’s stay at his club lasts only the one year and he said, “I would be really proud for both Stephen and the club. A couple of years ago players like him would not have come to Stranraer but he has and played well. If that leads to a return to full time football then I would be delighted. I will have done my job.”
Stirling finished by saying, “I have decided to step back but I am looking forward to stepping up again. I had lost my love for the game and basically my head was up my backside but Stranraer caught me in time.”
“Some of my closest pals at Rangers were John Fleck, Nicky Gallagher and Ally Park. John is still full time at Rangers, Nicky now works in a Call Centre and Ally came on as a substitute for Auchinleck Talbot last week in the Scottish Cup. I am still in the Senior game and am grateful for that.”
Stephen also won the IRN-BRU Ginger boot for December
IRN-BRU Phenomenal Player of the Month – Farid El Alagui (Falkirk)
Not even the onset of freezing temperatures and snow could halt Falkirk goal-machine Farid El Alagui picking up the second IRN-BRU Phenomenal Player of the Month Award of his short career in Scotland.
El Alagui added to his growing reputation further with a double against Queen of the South in a 5-1 success as well as the goal that saw Morton defeated 1-0 at the beginning of the month.
“I thought I would struggle in the winter,” joked the Moroccan born 26 year old, “But I have done okay. I did not enjoy the snow that much and unlike France where I played before and it was gone after a couple of weeks I believe there is a chance it could still come back to Scotland.”
The front-man reckons there were a number of team-mates that could be picking up this Award saying, “We played Queen of the South on a difficult day and put on a great performance to win 5-1. Craig Sibbald scored a couple of great goals that day and he would have been a good choice as would Kieran Duffie or Kallum Higginbotham or indeed a lot of the players.”
Falkirk’s 1-1 draw with Ross County could be hugely significant come the end of the season with El Alagui saying, “We were only seconds away from winning that game but they got a goal. I do not think that we should be disappointed as we showed that we can match them. The belief that will come from that will stay with us until the end of the title race so it was a good result for Falkirk.”
Goal of the Month – Keaghan Jacobs – (Livingston)
Livingston midfielder Keaghan Jacobs’ dashing run from his own half against Falkirk, coupled with a side step of his marker and a curling 25 yard shot high into the net saw him crowned the latest SFL Goal of the Month winner.
The 22-year-old was delighted to learn of his success as it will give him bragging rights over brother Kyle, who scored a cracker against Partick Thistle earlier in the season.
Jacobs said, “I am sure that by being awarded the SFL Goal of the Month prize I can officially say mine was a better goal than my brother’s one. It was definitely the best goal of my career and my only disappointment is that our brilliant fightback that day did not get us a better reward.”
Falkirk had raced into a three goal lead before half-time thanks to goals from Farid El Allagui, Murray Wallace and an own goal from Jonathan Brown before Jacobs made it game on when he added to Bobby Barr’s goal for the Lions.
Mark Fotheringham curled in a free-kick, which was also a contender for November’s Award to level the scoring, however David Weatherston popped up with a late winner for the Bairns.
Jacobs added, “It was great to be part of such a thrilling comeback by scoring a really good goal but it was to end up a disappointing day.”
After monthly winners, selected by a panel of football writers in Scotland, from the Second and Third Division this season, Jacobs is the first First Division Winner and he said, “I was surprised to hear I was the first winner from our league as it is a really competitive one and there are lots of good goals scored in it.”
There have been other highlights in Jacobs’ career, including a historic appearance alongside his triplet siblings Kyle, Devon and Sheldon in a Third Division game against Albion Rovers in April 2010 and the South African born player said, “Apart from playing alongside my brothers I have a Third Division and Second Division Winners medal and now a Goal of the Month award so that is not too bad a CV to have.”